Fall Camp: Following Follett

The Bears Are Still Looking for the Right Fit at the Position Vacated by Zack Follett

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Two weeks into fall camp, the Cal football team is still looking for the right fit at weakside outside linebacker -- possibly because the void left by last year's starter, Zack Follett, is so huge.

When the Bears adopted the 3-4 to exploit their depth at linebacker, Follett was the ideal candidate for the "rush" backer -- explosive, strong and obsessed with rushing the passer. When Cal linebackers coach Kenwick Thompson says that Follett "really, really had a passion for getting to the quarterback," he still might be understating things a bit. Follett is the guy who set a picture of Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge as the background of his MySpace in the months leading up to their 2007 meeting, then destroyed Ainge on a blitz two minutes into the game, forcing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

"His get-off and speed were outstanding," says Thompson. "He played on a lot of emotion and that part of the game he really got up for."

In short, Follett's a tough act to follow on the weakside, and that's beginning to show. For the first two weeks of camp, the Bears had senior Devin Bishop and junior transfer Jarred Price split first-team reps at the position. A few days ago, they shifted junior Mike Mohamed to the outside with the first team and Bishop inside where he will stay for now, according to defensive coordinator Bob Gregory.

"Neither one of them (Bishop or Price) echoes Zack right now," Gregory said Friday. "That's why we moved Mike there -- to see if we can find the right guy for that position."

Mohamed -- who can play all four linebacking positions -- currently gives the defense its most explosive option off the weakside, Gregory said. Cal coach Jeff Tedford said that if the season began today, Mohamed would start on the outside.

Thompson says the switch was also made in part to increase the versatility of all his linebackers and thereby create depth in the group in case a starter is lost to injury. The same thing was done during fall camp last year -- it's just that no starters were lost for a significant period of time during the season so nobody had a reason to notice.

The effect of last year's good health, though, is that the backers vying for the weakside spot this season don't have much game experience there. Mohamed has played some downs on the outside, Bishop recorded just 13 tackles off the bench last season and Price was a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme at Blinn Junior College.

Thompson says that "they're really relishing the challenge" of catching up with Follett and that, to do so, each must find and develop his "best quality."

"Zack, one of the things he did was develop the thing that was really good with him, and that was his speed," says Thompson. "It's the same thing for those guys. We're working now to find out what's the thing they do best."

With Mohamed, it's simple.

"He's one of our best football players and in the 3-4, you want to have a pretty good player on the outside," Gregory said.

Bishop and Price are both quick, athletic linebackers with the ability to change direction well off the ball. While Bishop is moving inside, Price appears to be remaining on the outside for now as a member of at least two personnel packages. Although he never played with Follett, Price said that he studied Follett's pass-rushing technique a little and that he believes he rivals Follett in terms of speed off the edge.

"Zack, he's good with his hands," Price said. "He used his hands a lot and I use mine similar to how he used his. We've both got the same style of play for the most part, so you can't really tell the difference. Except he's about 6-foot, I'm about 5-foot-9."

The height differential, Price feels, is actually an advantage for him.

"Since I can bend the corner fast, I can get my first step," he said. "Big offensive linemen don't like to come down where I am."

Price has only been working with the team for a few weeks, and Gregory said that "he'll keep getting better."

Meanwhile, the search for the perfect fit continues.

"If it's Mike, it'll be Mike," Gregory said. "If it's somebody else, it'll somebody else. We've just got to find the right guy for that position."

Tags: FALL CAMP, ZACK FOLLETT, JEFF TEDFORD, CAL, CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS, CAL FOOTBALL


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]



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